By Wael Afifi, PSAC Analyst and Unifor Local 2025 Vice-President, Human Rights
I recently had an opportunity to watch Deux jours, une nuit (Two Days, One Night), a 2014 joint Belgian-French-Italian production starring Marion Cotillard (La vie en rose), who was nominated for an Academy Award for her role as Sandra, a Belgian working mother who is faced with a seemingly simple yet crucial and time sensitive challenge. Within two days, Sandra must reach her 16 co-workers and organize them for an important vote.
The background for Sandra’s story is unfortunately fairly familiar: the bosses had decided to get rid of this vulnerable worker who has been on an extended sick leave battling depression. However, what is very different is the method used to try to terminate her employment. Management planned a scheme that would let the workers have the ‘final say’ through a ballot question. This sneaky approach would see those employees pulling the trigger by “choosing” between receiving a badly needed bonus and allowing Sandra to return back to her job on the factory floor.
I have to admit that my initial reaction was disgust over Belgian labour laws that would make this reprehensible process even possible. But gradually, the direction and the cinematography of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardene (winners of the Palm d’Or for Rosetta in 1999 and L’Enfant in 2005) made me realize that the vote and perhaps even the factory are merely entry points in a much larger journey.
I don’t feel the need to insert the usual “spoiler alert” here because this isn’t your typical fairy tale or feel good movie. It isn’t about a superwoman who comes out triumphant like in most Hollywood fare. There are no spoiler alerts mainly because the timeline extending over “two days and one night” is as stated, more of a minor detail. The crux of the film revolves around the ongoing, continuing struggle of “chaque jour et chaque nuit” (every day and every night).
More specifically, this is not about the challenge of winning the vote in question. Rather, it is about how a small journey to organize for one ballot is inextricably linked to a larger principle, that of working class solidarity. The film is concerned with questions such as, how can workers organize more effectively and what can they do differently in the face of capitalism and its ongoing tactics to divide and conquer?
Sandra epitomizes the state of a working class that suffers from internal and external wounds. Her own family is facing numerous challenges, her marriage is on the verge of breaking down, and on top of it all that she is also suffering from depression. In other words, Sandra’s house isn’t in order and perhaps that’s what’s making her an easy target.
Paradoxically, this is precisely what makes Sandra’s journey important and inspiring. As viewers witness how engaging in one small battle (which started as a personal one) could eventually lead to the development of a collective class consciousness. At the early stages, Sandra’s main focus is on the vote because she is only concerned about getting her job back. But the brilliance of the movie lies in its ability to highlight that the larger journey towards emancipation might start with the personal but it can never reach its destination without the collective.
Sandra’s gradual transformation is all about how she develops such class consciousness by becoming actively aware of working people as members of a social class that must unite and organize in order to fight back against the vicious attacks directed against its interests.
Class consciousness encompasses much more than awareness of the workers of themselves as a class sharing culture and interests. It is more of an overarching consideration that has to constantly guide all organizational work and efforts on the ground because it serves as a constant reminder that the interests of the workers are at odds with those of capitalists.
Deux jours, une nuit is, without a doubt, an entertaining movie due in no small part to the superb performance of Cotillard and the production of the Brothers Dardenne. It is also more than just an enjoyable film – it illustrates how cinema and art in general can play an important role in raising class consciousness.